Bicycle Heaven Might Not Be European

Background

Articles You Should Review:

Two Dutch Commuters On Single Bike (look under the box)

Randy Cohen makes his case for why he thinks we Americans do not get the kind of respect as cyclists we should:

But most of the resentment of rule-breaking riders like me, I suspect, derives from a false analogy: conceiving of bicycles as akin to cars. In this view, bikes must be regulated like cars, and vilified when riders flout those regulations, as if we were cunningly getting away with something. But bikes are not cars. Cars drive three or four times as fast and weigh 200 times as much. Drive dangerously, you’re apt to injure others; ride dangerously, I’m apt to injure myself. I have skin in the game. And blood. And bones.

Nor are cyclists pedestrians, of course (at least not while we’re pedaling). We are a third thing, a distinct mode of transportation, requiring different practices and different rules. This is understood in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where nearly everyone of every age cycles. These cities treat bikes like bikes. Extensive networks of protected bike lanes provide the infrastructure for safe cycling. Some traffic lights are timed to the speed of bikes rather than cars. Some laws presume that in a bike-car collision, the heavier and more deadly vehicle is at fault. Perhaps as New York City’s bike share program is rolled out, these will become the case here.

Note the position of the handbag near the spokes and the CELL PHONE use while riding.

It may be however that our notion of what Bicycle Heaven looks like (as expressed by Amsterdam and Copenhagen) is a bit idealized. A Brit had these remarks in the “On Going Dutch” article cited above:

Dear Marc, Hello, I am a journalist from London. I have enjoyed your site and have enjoyed cycling in the Netherlands many times. I am writing an article for the cycling column (The Bike Blog) in the British newspaper The Guardian about the differences in cycling culture between Britain and the Netherlands, and I would be very grateful for your brief thoughts about the topic. Most British cyclists think the Netherlands is heaven. I understand why. There’s no doubt that, overall, the facilities in the Netherlands are much better. But I think cycling in the Netherlands is also much more tightly controlled in a way British cyclists would find difficult to accept. I am going to suggest that if British cyclists want cycling to be taken seriously in the way it is in the Netherlands, they will have to accept more rules controlling their cycling. While cycling in The Netherlands, I have been stopped by police twice, for not using the cycle path. This would never happen in Britain. Police very rarely stop cyclists even when they ride through red traffic lights or on the pavement. Rules about taking bikes on trains are also much stricter in the Netherlands: you have to buy a ticket, and can only take the bike at certain times. In Britain it is free to take a bike on the train, and though there are rules, no one takes any notice of them. As long as the bike will fit, you can usually take it. I would be very grateful if you could send me a sentence or two of your opinion about the differences between attitudes to cycling in Britain and the Netherlands. These are the kinds of questions I will be asking in my article: if you have any other thoughts on the topic, please add them: – Are there more rules for cyclists in the Netherlands? – Do you think Dutch Police enforce the traffic law more strictly than British Police? – Are Dutch cyclists more responsible than British cyclists? – Do you think we can create a Dutch cycling culture in Britain without accepting more regulation and law enforcement? If I can quote it in my article, I will give a link to your blog in my article. The Guardian website is the second most popular in UK, and many thousands of people read the Bike Blog. Thank you very much Matthew Wright

This is an interesting contrast in views being expressed here. I’ve tried to make the same point regarding the views of Mr. Cohen, here. Europeans have a more vehicular view of cycling than is currently popular amongst the hipster community in Chicago. Long established traditions of requiring things like lights would be troublesome for most urban cyclists. Imagine if suddenly the primary design of bicycles included things like kickstands, fenders, wheel locks and “priest” handlebars as is the case in Europe. The kind of bike used there is more of an SUV than a sports car. It is built for utility rather than speed. In essence cycling as practiced in Europe is the very antithesis of the way we do things.

Sure many of us envy the protected lanes Europeans enjoy. But frankly it is the bike paths that they have which are their crowning glory. And what ends up being a race between autos and bikes for supremacy on the crowded streets of Chicago would become (assuming paths were the predominant routes for bicycles) a struggle between younger and fitter cyclists and the plodders who would no doubt be in greater numbers. I can just hear the conversations around the water coolers of the city about slow cyclists who are “making everyone late for work”.

Time will tell but it would be interesting to hear feedback from others to contrast with that of Matthew Wright.

“I Have A Dream”

When automobiles became widely used vehicles they were supplanting the more commonly used bicycles as a mean of personal transportation. Eventually a whole host of things were attached to the ownership and use of motor vehicles as their numbers grew. What will happen as the number of bicycles used for daily commutes and personal errands increases? How will the cycling landscape change?

Here are some wild predictions from me about the future of cycling:

  • Insurance companies will dictate most of the changes going forward.
  • Licensing of the users and a corresponding road test to that given to automobile owners.
  • Classes like Road 101 from the League of American Bicyclists will be the basis for cyclist training. Students will learn:
    • Hand Signaling
    • Proper Helmet usage
    • Basic bike repair for flats and brake or chain adjustments
  • There will be an equivalent of the drivers license for bicyclists complete with photograph.
  • Bicycles will have the automobile equivalent of VIN numbers.
  • Some soft of easily viewed external license plate will have to be affixed to a bicycle.
  • Self-repair stations along bike trails and streets will give way to bicycle filling stations.
  • Bicycle repair will take place during the day while a commuter is inside his or her office. The mechanics will bring a vehicle to the parking lot where a bicycle is being kept. He or she will identify the bicycle to repaired by means of the license attached to its frame.
  • On street parking will be expensive and not free. Municipalities will require this to help fund the purchase and upkeep of the parking stations.
  • There will be a push for segregated routes not just protected lanes. The appeal for this approach will be the notion of what will be labelled a bicycle superhighway.
  • School kids will use designated routes to school. Schools will be required to furnish parking spaces for the increased number of bikes. Parking lot stickers will be assigned and a fee will be attached to help pay for the building and upkeep of these parking facilities.
  • Adults will be offered bicycle owners insurance to help pay for a new bicycle in the event of theft, personal injury or liability, and vehicle damage in the operation of a bicycle.
  • Bike tires will become more balloon like and thicker.
  • Insurance companies will dictate how a commuter bike must be accessorized. They will demand:
    • Lights of a specific wattage and placement both front and rear
    • Reflectors will continue to be required but cannot be the sole means of increased visibility
    • Fenders will be encourage because their use will reduce your insurance premium
    • Kickstands will be required to provide a means of keeping bikes upright while parked
    • Bike locking mechanisms will become standardized. There will be a movement to define the minimum standards for a bicycle chain and lock for theft prevention. Riders using such devices will see their premium reduced.
    • Bike frames will become as heavy and sturdy as those used on Dutch Bikes. Use of specific classes of bike frame will reduce premiums.